Black Paint Leicas: Much ado about nothing?
What is it about black-paint Leicas? Certainly a lot of fuss. Last December I wrote about the collectibility of black paint cameras and the possibility that the bubble was about to burst Yet there’s an undeniable something that attracts me to black-painted Ms. I love my modern 2004 MP with its obligatory touch of brassing. And I think that the mid-1930s Leica III in nickel with black paint is one of the most beautiful cameras ever made. It is still producing great results and, with its nickel-plated 5cm f/2 Sonnar attached it creates an irresistible image.
This obsession with black paint has grown gradually over the past few decades. Black paint (as opposed to the more common black chrome process) cameras now command a hefty premium. A black M3 or one of the few German-made M4s are always in demand. An M4 in black paint will sell for well over £2,000 while a chrome version of the same camera is priced in the hundreds. But beware, black-paint screw-mount cameras, such as the model III featured in this article, are not all that rare and, in fact, are quite common. When it comes to premium prices we are definitely talking about M-mount cameras from the M3 onwards.
Such is the demand for black Ms that many cameras originally finished in chrome have been repainted black. This is especially the case with M3s where black repros are very common. Some are extremely well done and look great. But while they may desirable, they are not the genuine article and, of course, you should be careful. At the right price you will be pleased, if black is your choice. But don’t pay over the odds because only the original black-paint cameras will command the best prices.
Yet it was not always so. Before the war black-painted cameras were the norm, certainly up to the mid-30s, and were cheaper than cameras finished in the newer, more robust chrome process. Similarly, nickel lenses were cheaper than the new-fangled chrome. The opposite is now the case, with nickel lenses commanding a significant premium. The Summar on the Leica III is a fine example of a nickel lens with the rarer black rim — another factor which can add to value. Originally a second best, for those who couldn’t afford the extra few shillings for chrome, this nickel lens has now become the greater object of desire.
Last December, about the same time as I was writing about the potential pricking of the black-paint bubble, Dutch blogger Johan Niels Kuiper published a comprehensive article including a lot of background on black-paint Leicas and it is well worth a read. You can find his article, “Leica M Black Paint cameras, what’s all the fuss about?” here.